Why you have to watch: Let’s start with a little star power. Predators defenseman P.K. Subban is a must-watch every time he hops over the boards, and he has put up seven points in 10 playoff games so far. This postseason run has been pure retribution toward anyone who doubted that a Subban-led defense could challenge for a Stanley Cup. Subban has been great so far. … Both of these teams are beautifully constructed, and feature modern and fast defenses. The Ducks are deep and loaded with young defensemen, while Nashville has two Norris Trophy-caliber defenders in Subban and Roman Josi. … Ryan Getzlaf shows us time and time again that he’s capable of strapping a team to his back in big games and carrying it across the goal line. Getzlaf and Ryan Kesler have been dominant down the middle for a long time, and this is another chance for the rest of the world to appreciate their greatness. … This series could be a breakout party for Ducks forward Rickard Rakell, who remains vastly underrated.
Head to head: These two teams played it pretty even during the regular season. The Ducks won two of their three games (including one shootout win) and outscored the Predators 10-9 in those games. Anaheim also outshot the Predators and had a 102-90 edge in the faceoff circle. … Anaheim’s strength down the middle, with Kesler and Getzlaf, poses a real problem for the Predators. The Ducks have the highest faceoff percentage of any team still playing, and have won 55.9 percent of their draws during the postseason. … This series will be the biggest test of the playoffs for Nashville center Ryan Johansen, who had just one assist in three games against the Ducks during the regular season.
Injury fallout: Nashville’s Kevin Fiala is expected to miss four to six months with a broken femur, which he suffered during the series against the St. Louis Blues. … Aside from Fiala, the Predators are relatively healthy, which is one of the benefits of getting their series finished in short order. Having that extra time to rest, however, could result in some early rust against the Ducks. … Ducks defenseman Kevin Bieksa (lower body) played only once against the Oilers but should be closing in on a return. … Anaheim forwards Logan Shaw (lower body) and Patrick Eaves are also injured. Eaves was spotted on crutches after being injured in Game 3 of the Ducks’ conference semifinal series against the Edmonton Oilers.
Goalie advantage: The way Pekka Rinne has played in this postseason, he gives the Predators an advantage over any team they face. Rinne leads all playoff starting goalies with a .951 save percentage, and his two shutouts is tied with Cam Talbot for the postseason lead. Rinne also has a sparkling 1.37 goals-against average. … John Gibson has made some big saves for the Ducks, but he’s been far from perfect this postseason. He enters the Western Conference finals with a .908 save percentage. Gibson did come up big in Game 7 against Edmonton, but still finished with just an .895 save percentage for the series against the Oilers.
Coaching advantage: With two veteran coaches behind the bench in Randy Carlyle and Peter Laviolette, we’re calling this a draw. Laviolette’s Predators are a fast, up-tempo, offensively strong squad that is also allowing just 1.4 goals per game defensively. Carlyle has a great feel behind the bench and his Ducks actually have the better possession numbers in the playoffs, controlling 53.6 percent of the even-strength shot attempts so far this postseason, compared with 50.3 percent by the Predators … Both coaches have Stanley Cup rings. Carlyle won his with the Ducks in 2007 and Laviolette got his with the Carolina Hurricanes in 2006. … By leading the Predators this far, Laviolette became the first American-born coach to guide three different teams to a conference final.
Prediction: This should be a great series, one that can certainly tilt in either direction. But the fresh legs and goaltending edge in Nashville should be enough to propel the Predators.
Courtesy of Craig Custance
ESPN Senior Writer